Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dancing with anxiety

Anxiety is exhausting. Exhausting, frustrating, seemingly endless, and so very distracting.

I’ve had two panic attacks in my life. The first one was the night after I made the decision to get a hysterectomy. It was a very sound decision based on some medical needs and a clear and lasting desire not to have children. It was a decision made over several months and I was at peace with it.

So the racing heart, the spinning head, and the inability to get enough air in my lungs came as a complete surprise later that night as I was calmly sitting in bed watching TV. The physiology gobsmacked me and the sneakiness terrified me.

Coincidentally I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled a few days later. I told my doc about my experience. He prescribed some long-term and some quick-action anti-anxiety meds. I never took them.

I bumped along for the next month, waiting for my surgery. The panic didn’t return but there was a general nervousness just below the surface that never really went away. It was a persistent feeling in my gut like I was leaning back in a chair and might…or might not…fall backwards. So annoying.

A few days after my hysterectomy, I had a second panicky episode. It was terrifying. I felt like I was consumed by adrenaline. I was frantic and frenetic. My skin and skull felt too small for my body, like I needed to explode out of them like the Incredible Hulk. My brain raced and pulsed along with my heart. I desperately wanted to escape my body and felt trapped inside of it. It only lasted a few eternal minutes but I still avoid thinking about it for fear it will return.

Looking back, I suspect I was being attacked less by panic and more by horribly jangled hormones and new-to-me pain meds that I will never take again. Nevertheless, the knowledge of what it feels like to be on the edge of your own sanity sort of chips away at your I-can-handle-life armor.

I’m grateful and a little scared that I have not experienced anxiety like that again (yet?). Instead, it seems I get dizzy, lightheaded, with a brain that feels a little sloshy in my skull if I move my head too fast. That leaning-back-in-a-chair feeling is present, too, but it’s the dizziness that captures my attention. I’ve seen so many doctors and tried so many things and had so many theories. Mold, cleaning chemicals, allergies, dirty air vents, ear infections, ear wax, dehydration, vertigo.

Instead, the culprit seems to be exhaustion and frustration from too many demands and not enough deep breaths. When I am running too hard, when I am desperately trying to hold things together, when I am carrying more than I should…eventually the anxious dizziness sets in.

Rob has dealt with anxiety on a much larger scale for the last 15 years or so. It’s his story and he is open with it, with the prayer of being an encouragement to others desperately wallowing in the pit and losing hope of ever climbing out.

He has stumbled back into the pit several times since he fell so deep 15 years ago. Gratefully the first time was the deepest. Each stumble gets a little easier by the very simple yet powerful truth that he has stumbled before, survived, and climbed out each time. Each stumble makes him stronger, but it doesn’t make the trip any more fun or less exhausting.

Rob stumbled in February. He has been exhausted and frustrated and distracted. I have been present and stable and reassuring. But I have been running too hard, holding things together with all my might, carrying more than I typically do.

After three dragging months, Rob is finally out of the pit. All that remains is for him to fully realize he is out.

I’ve been dizzy for a week or two. I really shouldn’t be surprised.

With Rob safely out, it’s apparently my turn to dance around the Anxiety Pit. It doesn’t seem fair that just as Rob is feeling on solid ground, I start losing my footing. Life is a lot more fun when we’re standing firm together.

I know we will get there again. I know this state is temporary and survivable. But it is still annoying and frustrating and exhausting.

I’m trying to remember to drink extra water. I used some ear drops today, and popped some Dramamine. My theories are still there, and they are still wrong. Despite my need to fool myself into thinking I can control this, deep down I know the only remedy is time and patience. Slowing down and releasing things that might not be mine to carry anymore.


Monday, March 4, 2019

My exertribe

Thanks to a titanium erector set in my spine and a Really Big Government Agency deeming my back a big ol’ mess, I am a reluctant member of an exercise program called Silver and Fit. I am currently at least half of those.

Silver and Fit is a benefit offered through a Massive Healthcare Program aimed at people 65 or older. However, because that Really Big Government Agency agrees my back is more like that of an 80-year-old, they let me sneak into the Old People’s Club extra early. Like when I was 33. Go creaky, broken me.

Although they offer all sorts of in-home kits for folks who can’t or don’t want to leave their homes to exercise, the biggest benefit to me of this Silver and Fit thing is free membership at any and all participating gyms and fitness clubs.

Yep, that’s right. There aren’t a lot of benefits of this life with titanium and chronic back pain, but a huge one is I can go to lots of gyms for free. No sign-up fees, no monthly fees, no class fees. Just amble in with my white hair and Silver and Fit eligibility info and TA DA! I can sweat and ache all I want in the company of much more toned and Lycra’d strangers.

I haven’t been taking advantage of this benefit since my ACL replacement a few years ago. My exercise has been in the form of walking in my favorite park or riding a stationary recumbent bike in the company of pampered cats wandering through Woodhaven on their way to food and litter boxes. Although my back and knee and other body parts thrive on 30-60 minutes of intentional movement each day, I have to admit I often let other more pressing needs…like tea or the Internet or my couch…take priority.

Shortly after the New Year, a resolute friend told me she had started attending a Silver and Fit class at a long-forgotten local gym. Knowing that I am much more committed to exercise when I have a class to show up for, I quickly signed my 51-year-old self up for my free gym membership. I have been attending the Old People Class twice a week for about three weeks.

I have taken all sorts of fitness classes over the decades, pre and post titanium. Step aerobics, Zumba, Pilates, Fitness Ball. The Silver and Fit class is one of the oddest classes I have ever taken. And I’m slowly learning to love it.

About 20-25 mostly silver and somewhat fit people trudge up the stairs to the gym’s studio for each class. Unlike every other fitness class I have ever taken, about half of the participants are men. Never in my life have I seen more than 1-2 men in an exercise class, and rarely have they returned.

Many of the men are with their wives, although a number seem to be on their own. Almost every one of them wears jeans. Many of the women are in slacks. This is not a class of sports bras and Lycra capris and yoga pants. Most folks arrive in street clothes, seemingly ready to head to an early lunch or a doctor’s appointment after class is over. I guess they don’t sweat?

I’ve noticed a lot of folks wear watches on their wrists. An odd sight these days with smart phones doubling as intensely accurate clocks. I noticed the watch thing because I’m old school and wear one, too. Here I thought I was being whimsically vintage. Perhaps I’m just being prematurely 75?

There are a few men with their phones in belt clips a la pager days. The women keep their phones in their purses nearby. One man arrives with his oxygen equipment. At first I thought that didn’t bode well for the class; now I am just so impressed that he is coming and moving despite a really good excuse not to. Nevertheless, I can’t say I’ve ever considered an oxygen condenser as fitness equipment before.

We get our fit on using a chair, light weights, and an exercise band. The cardio is reminiscent of basic step aerobics, with grapevines and toe taps and Hustles forward and back. The chair is to steady balance at any moment and for very light ab work. Or a handy place to take a breather as needed.

As of today, Angie (the instructor) and I agreed I will replace the chair from now on with a large exercise ball for a more advanced work out AND because my back feels safer that way (90% of my physical therapy rehab for my back surgeries used a large fitness ball so it is very familiar and comforting territory).

The music that accompanies our workouts is targeted to the demographic. Lots of hits from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. I like those eras so I’m quite happy, although I have had quite enough of Sloopy and the admonishments for him to hang on. Disappointingly but not surprisingly, I’ve yet to hear a song involving a synthesizer.

The crowd is still sizing me up. The first several classes, I felt very conspicuous and like people were staring at me. And honestly, it wasn’t just a feeling. A few were indeed staring. Mostly because I’m new, but probably also because I am clearly not old enough to be in the class. I look and mostly move my age…which in a group that seems to average in the 70s is indeed conspicuous.

I desperately want to explain about my titanium and retirement status and all the stuff about the Really Big Government Agency giving me permission to be there. Instead, I keep hoping my silver hair is giving me sufficient credibility until my story gets out.

A few people have introduced themselves, one telling me how much of a family the group is. I have had a sense of that, as there seem to be real friendships there and a true care for each other.

Last week one lady reported that she had visited a woman who had not attended the class in a couple of months and wasn’t responding to phone calls. Turns out she had been sick and was also taking care of some family issues. A "thinking of you" card was circulated for well wishes and encouragements.

This morning a man left the class early and Angie went running after him. The man has early Alzheimer’s and Angie wanted to make sure he was safe. The class remembered together an incident several years ago when a man with dementia wandered out of class to “go take a walk.” Angie retrieved him, too.

There is definitely a sense of community with these Silver and Fit folks. They greet each other warmly, they each have their spots, they keep tabs on each other. I like the vibe even if the exercises are perhaps a little easy for me. So I’ve been doing what I can to make sure I get value out of this class. I might lift my arms a little higher or step a little bigger or use a band with more resistance. I am definitely sweating and am happy to be in my t-shirt-covered sports bra and yoga pants.

But I am also aware that I am in many ways an interloper. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. Wondering if I might fit in better elsewhere, I attended an able-bodied-people class last week. I left early. I was far too silver and not nearly fit enough for that capried, nimble tribe. They weren’t particularly friendly, either – each seemingly more focused on her core than her surroundings.

So for now…and maybe for a long while…these older seniors are my people. My exercise buddies. My exertribe. And I think they are just nice enough to let me stay until I'm old enough to be there.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The eyes have it

It’s been exactly one month since I started wearing my fancy, old person’s glasses…the ones with supposedly three prescriptions in one handy lens. I’d say I am 94% used to them. Yes, my career was all about data and precision, why do you ask?

I was rather panicked that after sharing my early progressives woes, I learned that more than a couple friends never got used to their optic wonders and reverted back to either bifocals or Dollar Tree readers. After having invested so much time and insurance benefits in my fancy blue Legacy Lane 45 specs, the thought of ditching them entirely left me a bit cross-eyed.

I am relieved to report that overall I am quite happy with my latest rite of passage into the Middle Ages. The first week was a doozy, though.

In a jolt of inspiration, I started popping Dramamine pills for the first several days. The dizziness from the warped lenses was much improved. Yay for the medicine cabinet!

Each day, the tiny area of usefulness slowly expanded. Whereas the first day only about a dime-sized portion of each lens provided any sort of vision assistance, the second day we were up to a penny. I was up to a full quarter before the week was out. Progressive indeed!

It took a while to learn not to look at things out of the corner of my eyeglasses and expect them to be in focus. So long, sideways glances. The advice to turn my head and point my nose at whatever I want to look at remains brilliant. It wasn’t long before I was seeing quite well straight on and was managing curbs like a pro. But patterns threw me for a loop.

Around Day 5, we were in a restaurant and I had to steady myself as I approached our table. The accompanying chairs had vertical wooden slats for the back. The slats were arranged in a slight concave arc. All the lines and depth variances made my eyes feel like slot machine reels. Same thing happened while ambling across groovy, swirly carpet and while looking at a group of teenagers sitting on a floral couch circa Grandma 1986. So much dizzy.

I’m still trying to figure out how to watch TV while lying in bed. Mary, Ted, and Mr. Grant are all rendered a touch blurry while viewed through the bottom part of the lenses intended for reading. I’ve tried tsk tsking the glasses down my nose to view the WJM gang through the top, distance part but that has given me a headache. So for now I’m propping myself up with lots of pillows for my bedtime brain candy.

All of these adjustments, though, are totally and completely outweighed by one fundamental improvement: I can read without taking off my glasses!!! These new frames have not been perched on my head one single time!

It is rather revolutionary to have two magnifying glasses on my face now. It is so dang convenient! Need to read a menu? Need to reply to a text? Need to file a fingernail? Need to use a seam ripper to remove a scratchy tag? I just need to tilt my head ever so slightly and voila! Vision! All super easy mcsqueezy now with my Medicare-approved spectacles.

So despite the occasional moment of wavy dizziness or the blur of accidentally looking through the wrong part of the lens, I am quite excited by this pair of magical monocles. I honestly wish I had gotten them a few years ago. With age comes wisdom. And eventually, fancy glasses.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

California Rainin'

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest almost 15 years ago, our biggest fear was the weather. Having both grown up in sunny California…where the only reason to own a heavy jacket is for skiing in distant mountains…Rob and I were both a little twitchy with the idea of living in four distinct seasons. Our biggest concern was the rain.

There’s a good reason the rain in Washington is infamous. It does indeed rain here. Often. No month is off limits for precipitation. No date is safe for scheduling an outdoor wedding. Windshield wipers get a ton more use than sunglasses. We’re the Evergreen State not just because we have a lot of coniferous trees; regular watering keeps everything pretty lush.

With 15 years of practice, Rob and I are rather accustomed to going about life in the rain. Like all good Pacific Northwesterners, we do not use umbrellas. It rains far too often to be bothered with those cumbersome, drippy things. Hoods and hats are much more convenient. We also have winter shoes that are waterproof enough for us to be out and about with dry feet. I can’t remember ever coming home to Woodhaven with wet socks.

So when we saw the forecast for our annual trek to Southern California to visit Rob’s family last week, the repeated days of little clouds dripping water pellets didn’t really phase us. Sure, there was some disappointment we wouldn’t see the sun, but we have a Let’s Find The Sun trip planned for March. Instead, we just packed the same stuff we have been wearing at home – albeit with shorter sleeves – and figured we would roll with the California rain like the seasoned if not slightly smug Rain Warriors that we are.

How quickly we forget.

You would think with over six decades of experience between us, Rob and I would have remembered how different California rain is from Washington rain. How we were clueless there was a difference when we moved which is why we were so nervous. And how it was such a relief – aside from the need to learn about moss and drainage and Rain-X – to discover that Washington rain is so much more civilized than that reckless California stuff.

Somewhere in the soaked jaunt from our hotel’s lobby to our rental car, the memories of California Rain came flooding back.

Like many things about California, its rain is not very subtle. It is hard-pounding, splattery, delugey water that pours from the sky, seemingly determined to make up for months and months of hiatus. It fills potholes and street drains and low spots and cement rivers with aggression and speed. It demands attention and respect.

It is not the polite, dependable, unobtrusive rain of Washington.

Rob and I had plans to meet his folks for lunch at a beach-themed restaurant. We were a bit early so we decided to walk around a nearby indoor mall to kill some time.

On our way, peering through the fastest speed on the intermittent windshield wipers, we saw a massive puddle on a local road causing impressive splashes on proximate windshields. A few minutes later, Rob dodged a car that was driving on the median presumably avoiding some sort of urban lake or traffic jam. After cringing as another car speeding for a sunny day narrowly missed careening into sedan, we were eyewitnesses to yet another car backing into a very irked and vocal driver while trying to get into a parking spot. I’m assuming the rain was too heavy to see out the back window.

Clearly, SoCal drivers are not wise to the ways of damp driving. Sheesh!

The mall and its parking lot were crowded like it was December 23rd. The entrance to Macy’s looked like an elementary school at 2:00 as drivers dropped off or picked up passengers who didn’t want to get wet trotting through the parking lot. Umbrellas were everywhere, and shoppers were running for cover as if the rain drops contained the measles virus. It all seemed a little overly dramatic.

Being the aforementioned Rain Warriors that we are, we parked, smugged on our baseball hats, and casually walked through the parking lot. Good grief, Californians, it’s just a little rain.

Except that it wasn’t.

We were sort of completely drenched by the time we were unpeeling our not-as-waterproof-as-we-thought jackets near the Women’s Shoes. We squished around the mall for about 20 minutes, hoping the thighs of our pants would dry out and wondering if Rob’s leather shoes were permanently ruined.

When it was time to head to the restaurant, Rob dropped me off at the entrance while he parked. We were seated and then reseated because the roof above our table was leaking. Our new table had a great view of another leak dripping through the faux thatched roof into a bucket on the floor. Rob’s folks arrived, his dad toting an umbrella. He’s always been a smart man, my father-in-law.

Rob's glasses were fogging up as I took this.
I'm not sure his pants ever dried out before bedtime.
Verdict is still out on the shoes.

As much as we thought we had arrived prepared for the SoCal rain, we forgot to pack one thing: humility. We will know better next time…and we will buy some umbrellas, too. You win, California Rain. You win.

Rain is so infrequent in Southern California,
few buildings have gutters. We assume/hope
this one is temporary.

Monday, January 28, 2019

I'm not convinced this is really progressive

It wasn’t my intention, but I commemorated my 51st birthday with a prescription for my first-ever pair of progressively bifocally glasses. Sigh.

I had been resisting this rite of passage into middle age for at least three years. My optometrist gamely smiled at me each year as I took off my glasses to read saying, “No, no, this doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind taking them off to read. It’s really not that inconvenient.”

She knew my time would come. And so it has.

I decided to make the quintesstial leap into my early 50s as much fun as possible, so I dragged Rob around a couple of eyeglasses stores in search of some new frames. My aim was to feel spunky yet classy, contemporary yet traditional, stylish but not too arty. You know, nothing too complicated.

Rob is a very patient man.

I finally landed on some dark blue metal frames with a hint of cat-eye but hopefully not so much as to be old-lady-retro. Never ever with my dark brown Garnier #50 hair would I have considered blue frames. But with my silver hair? Spunky and stylish with a contemporary contrast! She types hopefully.

Rob took this when I was trying on the frames. 
I look content because I could see.

I picked up my new glasses today. I have been spinning with nausea ever since.

Those of you who have mastered the art of wearing progressive lenses, I commend you. You are mystical and magical. Teach me your ways! Lordy, this is a TRIP.

Rob assures me I will be fully adjusted to this warped view of the world in just a week or two. I remain skeptical. Every direction I look is distorted and fuzzy and wavy like a fun-house mirror. But if I move my head a seemingly random direction, things eerily snap into focus. I’m certain I look like a bobblehead.

Far as I can tell, about a dime-sized portion of each lens -- smack dab in the middle -- is actually useful. The rest is a Vaseline-coated smear of wasted polycarbonate. Given how expensive this fancy 3-prescriptions-in-1 technology is, my insurance and I sure paid a pretty penny for that dime.

I tried walking down a step into our garage this afternoon. I’m normally pretty good at this. Today I couldn’t get the darn thing in focus to save my life. I’m grateful I’ve had lots of practice at that step and intuitively know where it’s located. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance I looked drunk as I was stumbling around trying to confidently place my foot on the raised cement.

I prepared dinner, involving the poor judgement of using of a knife to slice a lemon. The lack of blood suggests I avoided slicing my finger. This is promising. Trimming the green beans was mostly just guess work.

Playing on my phone has admittedly been easier; I haven’t been taking off my glasses like I usually do. I’m still not sure where to hold the phone so I can see it, though. But I am adopting that distinctive Old Lady Downward Gaze with impressive speed. Go middle-aged me.

Typing this on my laptop has been entertaining. I keep bobbing my head up and down and telescoping the laptop closer and farther away, trying desperately to find that sweet spot of clarity. I eventually gave up and increased the zoom on my screen. Cheater McCheaterpants, that’s me.

Truth be told, I desperately want to retreat to my trusty single-vision glasses. The ones that don’t give me vertigo or a headache or make me feel like I’m underwater with random waves of clarity.

But I do love the blue frames, and I’ve now exhausted my 2019 vision benefit, so I must endure…for fashion’s and finance’s sake. God willing, I will be able to see before Valentine’s Day. Because we have a fantastically awful movie to watch (hint: puppets).

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Groovin' with God

It wasn’t our idea; nevertheless, five years ago Rob and I became leaders of our church’s Youth Group.

For more than a year prior to us diving in, Rob and I independently kept getting the nagging sense we were supposed to take on this admittedly insane responsibility. We each quietly batted away the Holy Nudges as one might shoo off a pestery mosquito, never bothering to mention the annoyance to the other.

Then one day we compared notes.

Reluctantly admitting we couldn’t ignore the prompts any longer, we resigned ourselves to being obedient and took the plunge. It really made no sense for us to volunteer, us being kidless and untrained and one of us with only 7 years of Christian Club Membership under her belt at the time. But we figured since the Holy Spirit got us into it, the Holy Spirit would guide us through. So far, so good.

The past five years with this growing group of teenagers (once a group of 6, now about 22) have been an absolute blast. Who knew other people's teenagers were so much fun?!?

We’ve discussed the history of Christianity, Quaker history, spiritual gifts, different religious beliefs (the Flying Spaghetti Monster was a favorite), apologetics, suicide, sexting, whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons (THAT was a memorable and hysterical night). We all come prepared to roll up our sleeves and dig in deep…but we also allow for lots of rabbit trails and off-roading and laughter.

The past few weeks, we have been talking about the Bible. We discussed whether it’s just an interesting piece of literature or if there’s actually something historically verifiable there. We chatted about the challenges of different translations and how some translations are word-for-word while others are more thought-for-thought. We introduced the concepts of “exegesis” and “hermeneutics.”

Yes, we’ve been told repeatedly we aren’t normal Youth Group leaders. We’ve chosen to take this as a compliment.

Last week, we asked everyone to translate the Lord’s Prayer into modern, everyday English. It revealed some concepts beautifully. Like the responsibility involved in trying to capture someone else’s words in your own. And how translating each word can lead to a different message than translating each concept. And how hysterical these kids are.

Here’s the Lord’s Prayer as memorized by many:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen

Here’s my rewording:

Holy God in heaven, I pray for your creation and that your will is realized. Please provide for our daily needs and forgive our sins. Please remind us to forgive those who sin against us. Keep us safe from temptation and Satan’s influences. Amen.

Yeah, I didn’t have the last part about power and glory. I was going off of the version in Matthew 6. Plus I didn’t really know that extra part was there. Embarrassing explanation below.

Here’s a teenager’s rewording:

Hey Father in the sun/cloudys
May we all honor you
Let your party come to earth
Just like it is in the sun
Keep us from having the munchies
Forgive us plz
And keep us from having grudges on others
Don’t let us be all sinny
And keep us from the Devil.

Here’s a teen’s rewording imagining how a young child might reword it:

Our father…uh, you’re not my dad though
You live in heaven
Your name’s scary?
Your wishes come true
Here like up there
Gimme bread everyday
And I’m sorry about taking that penny
Tell mommy I’m sorry
And make me not do it again
And I hope the kids aren’t mean
At recess tomorrow.

In the midst of the evening, I shared with the kids that I actually learned the Lord’s Prayer from a song in the early 1970s. I was in kindergarten and there was a groovy pop song on the radio that I really liked. I asked my mommy and daddy to buy the record for me so I could play it on my Cinderella turntable-in-a-suitcase. It was my first-ever 45.

Embarrassingly it was several decades later…when my atheist self nevertheless attended an Easter service with a Catholic friend…that I realized that the words to that groovy song of my childhood were actually in the Bible. And not just in the Bible, they were a part of the Bible that people memorize and recite and consider pretty important.  Never mind that the name of the song was "The Lord's Prayer."  Duh!  I can be impressively dense sometimes.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be singable and far out in 1974, the singing nun sort of short-changed the last couple of verses in her Grammy-nominated hit. As a result, I am still a little fuzzy on the lyrics…I mean verses…after all the trespassing. This is unfortunate, since praying for help resisting temptation and steering clear of evil stuff seems like a pretty good idea.

I played the ‘70s hit for the kids from my phone. Their eyes got big and their eyebrows bounced around and they tried to contain their laughter as they listened to this epic slice of 1974:

The room’s consensus was that the song would have been best performed by the nun while she was wearing roller skates. Because apparently teenagers in 2019 think the 1970s were all about roller skating. They aren’t entirely wrong.

At the end of the night, one of our resident artists (we have several extremely talented drawers in the group) handed me this. It’s the presumed album cover for Sister Janet Mead’s hit of the ages.

Please note her leg tattoo:  Holy Gal

Oh, how I ADORE these teenagers!!!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pepe to the rescue!

Longtime Woodhaven Ramblings readers might recall past references to livestock living near Woodhaven. I have a tendency to name/bond with animals I see grazing in fields I routinely drive by. It's a thing/hobby/personality quirk.

RastaLlama was a favorite. The poor dear had dreads that would have made Bob Marley envious. While entertaining to look at, my more educated llama self now understands that matted llama fiber is sort of crawny, mon.

Licking Cow lived just down the hill from us. She was a sweet whitish bovine that always seemed to be licking something when we drove by – a fence post, cow friends, herself. I was udderly confused when I later learned her “real” name was Baby. Maybe she spent lots of time in the corner?

And then there was The Camel, uncreatively named because I didn’t realize at the time that camels are not entirely unique pasture pets around here. It didn’t occur to me that The Camel would not definitively identify the camelid in question. And no, local readers, it wasn’t Curly.

Sadly, all these animals are long gone. Drives around Woodhaven have been lonely for a long spell.

Pepe to the rescue!!

We first noticed Pepe in October. The black and white spotted pig was snouting around in Licking Cow’s old pasture, daring me to stop in the middle of the road to gaze at him with awe and delight. Dare accepted!

I’ve seen pigs in pastures around Woodhaven before; they disturbingly never seem to last through major eatin’ holidays. I remember one that I admit made me salivate like Wile E Coyote. I often envisioned myself with a napkin tied around my neck and my utensils at the ready while I was waiting at the stop sign next to the plump ham’s field. Looking back, I should have named him Easter.

But Pepe is something different. Pepe looks much more adorable than delicious. Adding to the dawwww is that he always seems to be hanging out with a small heard of precious pygmy goats that should really be wearing tiny sweaters. I just giggle and squeal every time I see them! Which sadly isn’t very often. Pepe is somewhat elusive. Or smart enough to stay in the barn when it’s raining.

I was quite concerned that I might not see Pepe after Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving Ham would be a bit unconventional, who am I and my Thanksgiving Tacos to pass tradition judgement? My response to Rob’s “Pepe sighting!” text on November 26 involved a lot of exclamation points and hearty emojis. PHEW!

My reaction when we saw Pepe intently grazing in his field on the safely-past-Christmas January 3 was even more emotive.

I was having a hard morning. People drama, a cat who seems to have intermittent amnesia about the purpose for his litter box, a newly discovered roof leak, and mediocre preparations for arriving houseguests. It was a day. And it wasn’t even noon yet.

As we left Woodhaven for an appointment, I squeed like the first day of Fair when I saw Pepe and his goat buddies mowing the pasture. Checking the rearview mirror, Rob stopped the car as I rolled down the passenger window.


Dang if that darling pig didn’t stop eating and look right at me! He’s got the CUTEST little pink nose!!

I gushed greetings to Pepe. I told him how happy and relieved I was to see him. I enthusiastically acknowledged the goats and the nearby cows…all of whom paused to look at me with some interest if not confusion. I’m guessing they were unaware of their fanbase.

And honest to God, through all of this, I had tears in my eyes. It was sort of like those penguins in South America all over again. I was so full of joy at my very core, just from seeing that pig. All the frustration of the morning, the tears of weariness that had been surging just below the surface, they all did a 180 and released themselves in a rush of swine-fueled gratitude and delight. My day and mood were instantly a whole bunch brighter.

Pepe to the rescue…again.

So why the name Pepe?  I was excitedly telling
a friend - who tried his best to look interested - that
we have a new proximate pig near Woodhaven.
I thought "proximate pig" was sort of a fun name
but then thought it was too long.  So perhaps
shorten it to P.P.  But that's not a good name...
for anybody. So then I thought if PP were
pronounced a little differently, like peh-pay,
it would be a glorious name suitable for a
glorious pig.  Hence Pepe.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pondering dashes

Several years ago, Rob and I were at a winery (imagine that) that told us about a local nonprofit they supported. The organization was called “Make the Dash Count.” Although I eventually forgot the purpose of the nonprofit, I have always remembered the name…and its meaning.

The Dash is that little punctuation mark on headstones between a person’s birth and death dates. The idea is that when it comes right down to it, our life and what we do with it is represented by that small horizontal line. It’s a tiny symbol with enormous symbolism.

I’ve been pondering my Dash a lot recently. My uncle Kent’s funeral was last week. He undeniably made his dash count.

The funeral home’s sanctuary was full. At least 40 cars were in the procession (actually called a cortege, I learned) to the cemetery. Numerous people stood in front of a microphone and shared memories, including his oncology nurse. His nurse. Kent’s nurse not only came to his funeral, she spoke about him. She shared how Kent had become a friend and had made her a better nurse by watching his example and being in the reflection of his positive attitude and gratitude.

That doesn’t happen to just anyone.

What I heard over and over, through stories and memories and photos, was how Kent just had fun with life. He was serious when he needed to be, but he tried not to spend too much time there. Life was too short to get dragged down by the serious stuff of life…even before it literally was.

I truly believe beauty can come from even the darkest of life’s moments. One of the most beautiful things to come out of Kent’s death (and a year prior, my grandma who was his mom-in-law) is getting genuinely connected with my aunt and cousins and their families for the first time. For all sorts of reasons, we have never really been family other than in name. But that is changing. Connections are starting to be made. Lives are starting to be shared. Six-year-olds are starting to call me “Aunt Toni” even though I’m not an aunt (PLEASE don’t tell her), and 11-year-olds are starting to trust Rob with their fears.

Even in his death, Kent is bringing people together and helping them focus on the important stuff.

Rob and I have been retired for over 15 years. We bailed on our careers really early, to the confusion and occasional jealousy of many around us. And yet with a decade and a half of practice, we still suck at it.

We both have a tendency to take on responsibilities and assume obligations because, well, we have the time and capability. We keep saying “yes” to stuff and have effectively found ourselves with multiple unpaid jobs. They all absolutely bring joy; but they also bring a measure of frustration and exhaustion, too. As all jobs do.

Although I sense my dash is having a positive impact, I also sense a growing need to have the energy and flexibility to focus on other things. I’m doing important stuff, but I’m not sure it’s the important stuff I should be doing. And sometimes important stuff is simply making time to be quiet and breathe deeply and laugh loudly and blast music with the windows rolled down and put candy corn on hot chocolate because you can’t find any marshmallows.

A quote that resonated with Kent as he battled cancer and then appeared on his funeral program and his urn (the most amazing urn ever) was “You get what everyone else gets…you get a lifetime.”

A lifetime.  A dash.  We each get one, gratefully with new chances each day to make sure it counts.

Yep, that is a Harley Davidson gas tank, painted the
same color as Kent's bike.  The next day when Rob
and I were visiting Kent's grave site, we were
approached by one of the men who dug the grave.
He said it was the most amazing urn they had ever
seen and he was so happy to have had the chance to
talk to us to learn more about the man it belongs to.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thankful for Uncle Kent

Growing up, I had two uncles. I didn’t see either of them very much. One was there from the beginning; the other entered my life when I was just finishing up grade school. The late-comer fast became my favorite; a fact I knew I wasn’t supposed to reveal but a fact nonetheless.

Kent was nine years older than me. An enormous age difference at the time; hardly worth mentioning now. But I think maybe that relatively small age gap was at the heart of why I immediately liked Kent so much when my aunt first started dating him. Kent didn’t treat me like a little kid. He somehow knew how to talk to me at my level, making me feel noticed and that what I had to say mattered.

I never felt judged by Kent. I always felt accepted and welcomed by him, which I especially appreciated when I was a teenager and generally longed for acceptance at every turn.

At barely 15, I was the youngest person in Kent and Linda’s wedding party; the first wedding I had ever been in and the first wedding I remember even attending. I had no idea how to fit in with all the adult wedding attendants. Somehow in the midst of preparing to get married, Kent managed to find time to put me at ease and give me confidence I was doing just fine in a sea of very cool and mature 20-somethings.

Over the years, as my family would gather for various milestones, I was always especially excited to see Kent. In large part because Kent always seemed happy. He was just one of those people that you wanted to be around. He was funny, kind, easy-going, and very quick to smile. Kent’s smile was probably his most distinguishing feature. He smiled big and he smiled often, with prominent rosy cheeks and twinkly eyes like Santa Claus, although Kent’s twinkle had a big dash of fun-spirited mischief in it.

My favorite picture of Kent was taken around Christmas 2005. Rob and I were spending our second winter as Washingtonians, learning how to adjust to frigid temps in the 30s, persistent rain, and the occasional deluge (maybe a quarter-inch) of snow. Transplanted Californians that we were, Rob and I were quite proud of how well we were surviving the harsh elements of Pacific Northwest winters.

In a conversation sometime around Thanksgiving, Rob and I bragged to Kent and Linda that we had learned to winterize our outdoor grill. Meaning we cleaned it and covered it with a tarp until late Spring. Being long-term residents of Nebraska, we were sure Kent and Linda would commend our new skills and welcome us to their Harsh Winter Survival Club.

Instead, our bragging was met with confusion and then laughter.

“What do you mean winterize? You don’t grill in the snow?”

Grill…in the SNOW?!? Were they nuts?!? Rob and I didn’t even grill in the rain! Cloud cover was even iffy. Because a grey day in California is time to pull out the sweaters, break out the hot chocolate, and heat up the crock pot. Grilling is a warm, sunny day activity. Therefore, in Washington, grilling is confined to July and August, and maybe September if the weather gods are feeling charitable.

Soon after our weather worlds collided, this arrived in our email:

We quickly sent back this:

I absolutely adore that picture of Kent. He has his quintessential smile, he’s wearing a goofy snowflake hat, and he’s playfully teasing us how REAL MEN approach winter grilling. The photo was on our fridge for a long time, then got taken down when we reorganized our magnetic photo album. It was put back in a place of honor on our fridge a few days ago.

Last week, on November 15, Kent died.  He had been fighting off kidney cancer for a few years and it finally won, as cancer so viciously often does.

I had a chance to see and chat with Kent several times over the past year. It was a shock to see his robust, solid frame reduced to the frailty of 95-year-old. A white beard grew in to cover the once plump rosy cheeks. Through the constant pain, though, the trademark smile remained even if a bit weary.

One of my last conversations with Kent, we were sitting on the stairs inside his house, watching the pre-wedding hubbub for his daughter’s nuptials the next day. We didn’t chit chat for long; we jumped right into the meat of how he was doing.

Kent told me that in a weird way he was grateful for his cancer diagnosis, because it reminded him to focus on the real stuff of life. Cancer made sure he spent lots of time with his cherished family and especially his grandkids. Cancer made sure he went to work when he could because he sincerely enjoyed the people he worked with. Cancer made sure he took trips with his wife of 35 years and celebrate the heck out of them.

Kent made the most of the 59 years he was gifted to walk this planet. I am grateful he was in my life, and I am certain the ripples of his life are far-reaching.

And I already miss his smile.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thankful for cleaning

Although my parents always told me when my grandparents were planning to come visit us, I knew their arrival was real close when my mom became a Cleaning Maniac.

Our house was always exceptionally clean; I learned the definition of irony by finally understanding the humor behind the sign in our kitchen that read “Bless This Mess.” But somehow my mom perceived our home as a pig sty when a visit by her parents – especially her mom – was imminent.

At about T minus one week, Mom was cleaning things I didn’t know got dirty. The tops of bookcases that nobody was tall enough to see, the grate thingy at the bottom of the fridge, the fancy dishes in the hutch that somehow got dirty even though they were locked away and only used a couple of times per year. All got a thorough cleaning when Grandma was on her way.

As a grade-schooler, I was totally baffled by my mom’s turbo tidy behavior. As a teenager, I vowed to never be like her when I grew up. This commitment was endorsed by Mom herself. I remember her telling me through exasperation and sweat and the lingering scent of Endust and Lysol, “Please promise me you will never do this for me when you grow up. I would hate to think of putting you through this.”


Fast forward about 15 years. Rob and I are living far enough apart from my parents that a visit now requires a sleep-over. Mom and Dad are planning to arrive in about a week. And suddenly, our normally rather clean home is a disaster.

The blinds need to be dusted. The baseboards need to be cleaned. The linen closet needs to be reorganized. I’m in a panic and moving through our house like the Tasmanian Devil with a sponge and 409.

And then, as I am vacuuming out the silverware drawer…something I had never done before but was horrified to discover had crumbs and specs of other food bits ALL OVER IT…I suddenly realized I had become my mother. Despite my promise to myself and to her, I was mimicking the behavior we had both agreed was unnecessary for a Healthy and Loving Mother Daughter Relationship.

Instead of berating myself, though, I laughed. I laughed at myself, I laughed at my perceived need to clean a drawer full of clean silverware, and I laughed at the seemingly DNA-coded drive to Clean for Mom…regardless who Mom was.

Before even putting the vacuum away, I called my mom.

“Guess what I just found myself cleaning because you guys are coming to visit next week??”

Mom and I almost always laugh when we talk on the phone. That phone call was especially commiseratingly giggly.

I told her I now totally understood why she cleaned so much before Grandma came to visit. She told me it wasn’t at all necessary but she totally appreciated my efforts. And when she arrived a week later and was lingering in my kitchen, she nonchalantly took a peek at the silverware drawer. She oohed and ahhed with just the right blend of love, empathy, and teasing.

This story came flooding back to me recently. Rob and I enjoyed an early Thanksgiving with my parents this year. We still live far enough apart that a sleep-over is required. A little less than a week before our arrival, my mom texted me this picture with the caption “I’m getting ready!”

Also note her t-shirt, a gift we gave to her a number of years ago.
It reads, "Let me get this straight.  My grandchild is a cat?"

This is already perhaps my favorite photo of my mom ever. It encapsulates a story, a history, a shared bond and experience. It oozes love and laughter and anticipation. It is the embodiment of the close, love-and-laugh-filled relationship I am blessed to have with my mom.

So very, very much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Back from an unintentional hiatus

I’m honestly a little afraid to look back to see how long it’s been since I’ve posted something here. A couple months at least.

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about. We’ve gone on trips, we’ve gone to concerts, we’ve socialized with llamas, we’ve hung out with teenagers. But the truth is, my busy calendar has been accompanied by waning energy. I’d like to blame being 50, but 50 truly isn’t old enough to use “I’m tired” as an excuse not to write. I mean, I’m currently in a recliner with tea and a cat. How hard is this?

The days when I can lounge in pjs and skip the make-up, I’m quite content to zone out on the internet or make a dent in my DVR recordings (finally all caught up on “Young Sheldon”). Somehow writing seems too taxing. Which is so odd because writing actually brings me energy and joy and happy.

Much like ditching the gym for a couple of months, the longer I’ve gone without posting anything, the harder it has become to get the motivation to jump right in and resume a good habit.

But jumping right in is really the only way to do it. So here I am, jumping right in.

So what have I been doing since August 24 (I had to look. YIKES.)?

Well, in early September Rob and I took that trip to Canada that we tried to take last year but got detoured by life. Instead of training it, we drove. Which while not as pampering and full of delicious scones and regional wines (Rocky Mountaineer train travel is spectacular), the automotive route was still extraordinarily scenic and relaxing.

I finally got to cross “see Banff” off my bucket list, and we got to see the enormity of the Canadian Rockies without the smoke screen we encountered last year. We saw lots of wildlife and had one of the best meals of our lives in Lake Louise (these events are unrelated; however, who knew bison was so tasty?!). It was a fantastic trip. I’m grateful we held true to our promise to my dad last year that we would retake the interrupted trip if he promised to stay out of ICU. Gold stars all around!

We enjoyed this view in Jasper National Park with wine,
donuts, and parkas.

Banff is so walkable!  A week after I took this
photo, this street was dusted with snow.

Glacial lakes are gorgeous.

We drove the Icefields Parkway twice just to try
to grasp how gigantic the Canadian Rockies are.

Power play by a bighorn sheep

Lake Louise before a breeze picked up and created
lots of ripples.

A couple weeks after we got back from Canada, we had a very musical weekend of the decades.

On a Saturday night, I dragged Rob to an Evening of My Adolescence. Boy George and Culture Club were the headliners. The B-52s opened for them, and one-third of the Thompson Twins opened for the B-52s. It was an unsettling evening.

The Thompson Twins was a favorite band in high school. They were actually three people, none biologically related -- a fact my dad found quite amusing.  I saw the Twins a couple times in concert in the heyday of the synthesized ‘80s. They were soooo gooooood!

And now, 35 years later? They…or rather, one he…is soooo baaaaaad!

Although I know their discography quite well, there were several songs I didn’t recognize for an embarrassingly (to him) long time. Tom Bailey’s voice ain’t what it used to be, and the Twins clearly need the full talent of three to be musically enjoyable.

Tom was not alone on stage, though. No, the 62-year-old grandpa was surrounded by a harem of slender women in their 20s who were not actually playing the instruments in front of them. They mostly danced around to songs they had likely never heard before they got hired for the gig and essentially played air guitar and air drums.  In all honesty, it was sort of pathetic.

Tom’s concert was so bad, at one point I was literally moaning and wincing in pain. Rob consoled me by introducing a phrase made famous in the military. Rob encouraged me to “embrace the suck,” to try to find humor and enjoyment in the dismal, sad, ridiculousness of a singer who should have given up touring a long time ago…and his aging fans who should have known better.

I tried my best to laugh off the agony.  However, I insisted on listening to my iPod Thompson Twins collection on our drive home in hopes of erasing the memory of Tom Bailey so painfully butchering the soundtrack of my adolescence.  Doctor, Doctor indeed.

It was like a really cheap MTV video from the '80s plus a
big red dot from Target

Fortunately, Boy George more than made up for Tom's cringe-worthy performance. Although George is five years OLDER than Tom Bailey, Mr. George definitely still has it going on. What a fantastic concert!

I had never seen Culture Club in person when they were first tumbling for us and not really wanting to hurt us and talking about chameleons and karma. My bad! Because if they sound this good in 2018, I really missed out on something spectacular in 1985.

I was sad that George didn’t do much of his iconic hip-swaying, understated, flowy dancing. Mostly because I sort of dance just like him and wanted to see my dance sensei at work. But George still wears a felt hat and long capes and presumably black eyeliner (I forgot to bring binoculars). And aside from a couple of missed high notes here and there, he still sounds just like his 30-year-old self.

Before that night in September, I had never realized that Culture Club is a mash-up of big band, blues, and reggae music. I guess I was too busy dancing and watching the pop videos.

Without those distractions of my youth, I found a whole new appreciation for both the music and the man behind it. I was seriously touched as George expressed true gratitude for still being around after 30-plus years, and still having fans despite a number of destructive, fame-driven detours along the way. His humility made me like him even more. I’m hoping Santa brings me Culture Club's new album. On CD, since I'm nostalgic that way and cassettes aren't vintagely hip yet.

The stage setup was so simple yet classy.  With musicians
who actually played their instruments.

The next night, I dragged Rob to a nearby casino to see an opinionated, somewhat bitter Canadian who was iconically ironic in the ‘90s. Although the venue sort of sucked (a ballroom with banquet chairs – terrible traffic flow and limited visibility), Alanis Morrisette rocked the crystal chandeliers. She still yodeled better than any Ricola commercial, and she got a whole new generation of feminists worked up into a sing-along, #metoo frenzy. I quite enjoyed it. Rob was terrified.

Alanis is that bright blob in the middle.  I watched most of
the concert on the large screens.

A few weeks later, Rob and I trekked back up to Canada for a few hours. What is it with us and Canada?!?

In our continued quest to earn free laundry on the Love Boat someday, we took another one-day repositioning cruise from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. Unlike the last time we tried to beat the system, this one-day-er was not a massive Booze Cruise. It was much more family-friendly and passengers were much better behaved and much less stumbly.

We had a lovely dinner at one of the specialty restaurants, sipped wine, walked around, listened to some music, slept on the not-terribly-high seas, and then rode a bus back to Seattle and drove home.

The whole jaunt, including a fancy dinner, wine, shuttles, parking, and a 4-hour international bus ride cost less than a new smartphone. Pretty reasonable for a weekend get-away on a cruise ship! And one step closer to being able to hand our laundry bag to a room steward and have clean clothes returned to us for free. (If you’ve ever spent time babysitting a washer and dryer in the cramped, steamy laundry room on a cruise ship while other vacationers are vacationing, you appreciate what a dream that is).

Pro tip:  Bring your own bottle of wine!

We got into Cruise Mode surprisingly fast.

Sunrise in Vancouver, BC.
Pro tip:  Book the cheapest interior room available
and gratefully accept the free upgrade to a balcony room

Beyond those out-and-aboutings, we’ve basically enjoyed all things Fall-ish the past two months. I was thrilled to have the rain finally return a couple of weeks ago. As much as I grow weary of having to match freshly laundered socks in the winter, I’m thrilled it also means the end of Leg Shaving Season. Sorry, Rob.

Our annual Seahawks game.  We chose these seats because
I wanted to see what it was like to see the players come out
from the locker room.  It was pretty awesome!  Worth getting
rained on to actually see the faces of my favorite players.

Grateful to our friend Laurie who helped us harvest our
250lbs of Riesling grapes.  Wine making underway in our barn!

The ultimate wedding crashers!  Such a blast
helping Rojo and Napoleon entertain wedding
guests.  I forget sometimes this isn't normal.

So now here we are on November 8.  The clocks are turned back, we've had our first freeze, and the air has that wonderfully sweet smell of decaying leaves.  I'm trying to wrap my head around the need to figure out a Thanksgiving menu and the abrupt arrival of Christmas ads and Starbucks red cups.

But I have finally jumped back into blogging. And my heart is happy.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Scattered Thoughts

The post-Fair recovery continues. In all honesty, it’s been a bit harder this year. By now I should be pretty much back to my version of normal. Instead, I’m still hanging out on my heating pad, scrambling pain signals to my brain with electrode patch thingys, and Netflixing. At least there’s popcorn (unbuttered and air-popped).

I’m also walking. Walking walking walking. One of the many great things about The Fair is that it gets me back into a daily routine of strolling several miles each day. Walking makes my back…and my head…happy. Walking is good.

I’ve been sort of nesting this past week, so I’m getting my steps in the rural hinterlands around Woodhaven. In addition to avoiding a car, this has also afforded me the chance to meet some new neighbors. This is awesome since we will all be retreating to our hibernacles soon.

Returning from today’s 2.7 mile jaunt, my fingers slightly purple from the fresh blackberry snacks along the way, I headed right to the couch. Partly because my back commanded as much, partly because urgent research was required.

It took about 10 minutes of Googling and carefully studying rather graphic images before it dawned on me that my life is so not San Francisco Suburbs anymore. Because I’m here to tell you, never in my life before Woodhaven did I ever study photos of animal poop…especially with such intensity and excitement.

I’m quite familiar with rabbit and deer droppings. They are scattered all around Woodhaven. And I know that coyote poop looks a lot like what might be provided by a dog. But my recent walks have been dotted with some new…curiosities.

Cougars (a mom and her cubs) have been reported in the area for the past several weeks. A neighbor posted a sign suggesting we play some tunes since “cougars are very sensitive to music…” Soooo extraordinarily tempted to play some “Pink Houses” and “Hurts So Good.”

It's honestly not clear to me if we're talking about mountain
lions or middle aged women trying to lure in young hunks

Just a few days ago, Rob and I had to brake on our way down the hill to let a bobcat bebop across the street. And bears are not unheard of in these parts, although I haven’t heard of any in the immediate area this year. So far.

My extensive (~20 minutes) research tonight on critter scat implored me to search for tell-tale signs including tubular ropes, blunt ends, and items that are segmented, and twisted. Poop adjectives, or bands from the ‘80s? Or both?

Either which way, my careful yet appropriately distant inspection suggests we’ve definitely been visited by coyotes. Maybe a cougar. Definitely not a bobcat. And maaaaybeee a Boo-Boo sized bear (the scat is a bit scant; we’ve got quality but not quantity to call it). All of which is rather compelling information.

However, perhaps the most fascinating and thought-provoking finding this evening is the revelation that for only $21.50 (plus tax and shipping and in stock now!), I can purchase my very own life-sized replica of "Adult Black Bear" poop. The gift giving ideas are piling up!!

If only Rob liked blackberries and raspberries. The “Grey Fox with Berries” sample is a bargain at just $11.50.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Ok, so I talked a lot about The Creepy Monkey Show at the Fair this year.  That wasn't its billed name but, truly, there is no title more apt.  As you will see shortly.

Although I did my best to describe the full oookiness of Giuseppe's "interactions" with the audience...especially those of the female persuasion...there's really nothing like seeing it for yourself.

And so, my dear Fair Fans, I give you....


And keep in mind...this is a kid's show. 

Although the Fair for 2018 is over, the images of Giuseppe will be burned into your skull for eternity.  Tell me I'm wrong.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

After the Final Elephant Ear – 2018 Fair Recap

Has anyone else noticed how particularly strong gravity has been the past few days? I swear I was adhered to Earth more than usual yesterday.

Today is a little better. I got about 9 hours of sleep last night and have reintroduced my body to the wonders of fruit and probiotics. If I follow my typical post-Fair pattern, all systems will be back to normal by the end of the week.

It was a great year
Rob and I were on our Fairwell Ferris Wheel Ride when I thanked him for fairing so well with me this year. He kissed me and shared that it was a particularly good Fair year from his perspective.

He said he never felt rushed or that we were on a schedule. Instead, I seemed much happier just showing up and wandering around, letting inspiration guide us. I paid less attention to the daily FanFair schedule (mostly because I’ve lost faith in its accuracy) and didn’t really seem stuck on a plan.

Maybe that uncharacteristically spontaneous trip to Hawaii in May had a bigger impact than I thought? Can I really be on vacation without a plan??

And yes, we view the Fair as a ten day vacation.

I was about to delete this accidental selfie my camera took
on the Ferris Wheel when I realized it captured a very
candidly happy, relaxed Fairgoer.  Vacations are good.

Why I love it so
A friend asked what it is that I love so much about the Fair; why it has captured my heart so completely. Two other folks leaned in to hear my answer so it occurred to me perhaps it’s a curiosity worth sharing.

Essentially, it boils down to being on a vacation with friends. The Fair is a total escape from reality, where it’s normal to see clowns riding around on penny-farthings and cowboys strolling around on stilts and livestock crossing my path on the way to a show ring.

It’s ten days of life in which my biggest decisions are which normally off-limits treats I want to indulge in. It’s an existence in which I happily welcome lingering, spontaneous conversations when I bump into friends without being distracted by a list of errands I need to keep on schedule.

There is a wholesomeness, an innocence, a revisit to simpler times with the Fair. I love seeing a cross-section of people of varying demographics sharing an experience. I love seeing the universality of adolescence played out in the carnival and livestock barns and show rings. I love watching suburbanites marvel at animals I see in pastures around Woodhaven every day. I love seeing elderly couples sharing pieces of pie and holding hands while looking at quilts.

So much in our world today serves to convince us we live in troubled, complicated times. The peaceful simplicity is still there if you know where to look.

It's not like it snuck up on them
This year was the Fair’s 150th birthday. I expected a lot of celebration and hoopla. I had very high hopes for the Fair People in Charge to put on a big party. Certainly they would make a big deal out of this county fair that is two decades...TWO DECADES...older than the state in which it resides.

And in the perfectly descriptive words of a friend of a friend, it was an Epic Fail.

I spent nine days looking and I found very little evidence of this year being any different than last year. There were mentions of it being the 150th birthday during announcements before shows in the Grandstands, but otherwise, a whole lotta nothing.

Well, I take that back. The Fair Board, whose 23 members are required to attend the Fair everyday, wore specially embroidered shirts commemorating the anniversary. And all the vendors had entry passes marking the occasion. And Very Special People were bestowed commemorative pins (bless you again, Fair Office Lady).

My friend John gave this to me at the end of the last day.
One of the best gifts ever.  Thank you SO
very much, John.  I already treasure it.

But that’s it. The only Fair souvenir available to the public was the plastic cup provided with your milkshake by the Dairy Women. I know quite a few locals who collect those cups every year. In part because they are adorable, but also because it’s the only souvenir of the Fair you can get.

What the heck, Fair People in Charge?

It’s not like you didn’t have any warning that the Fair was having a big birthday this year. Unless you needed more than 149 years? And actually, you did seem to know since you made sure your inner circle got swag.

Have you forgotten whom your non-profit really serves (yes, our Fair is a non-profit organization)? The Fair isn’t just about the hay contract and the soft drink contract and the banners and signage contract. While the Fair can’t happen without that business side of things, it really feels like that’s where the focus has shifted the past few years.

There’s been a slow decline in the variety and quantity of entertainment offered. Food booths are slowly dropping away and not returning. There are fewer vendors selling their wares, leaving obvious empty spaces around the Fairgrounds and in the Big Air Conditioned Building. The past few years – this and last especially – have felt off. The energy has been muted. The vibe has been one of being on auto-pilot, with the experience for the Fairgoer being something of an afterthought.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on (I have a few guesses), but this year was a chance for you to get back on course, Fair People in Charge. This year was a built-in opportunity to make a big splash, bring out the decorations and new ideas, invite your customers to Summer’s Best Party and celebrate with them. And Fair People in Charge, you blew it.

I love this Fair. Please love it as much as I do, Fair People in Charge. Please don’t take it for granted and assume it doesn’t need your attention. Don’t assume it doesn’t need your time, don’t assume it can run on its own, don’t assume that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it…because I fear some pieces are starting to get worn and might indeed break if you aren’t careful.

Rant...with love and passion...over.

This decoration was handmade by a beef mom
for the Beef Barn display using a hula hoop and
netting and pipe cleaners.  Beef Mom and daughter
were taking it to the Fair Office on the last day with
hopes that the office might like it.  We stopped them
to ask if we could get a picture with their awesome
decoration. Beef Mom was so touched someone
appreciated her enthusiasm and hard work. 
You rock, Beef Mom!
The Fair People in Charge should hire you.

Making peace with the icky reptiles
As noted on Day 2, I was not a fan of the Big Attraction Exhibit this year. Waaaay too many slithering things without feet. I like feet. Feet signal to others which direction you are heading. Feet are good.

However, we did realize there was one advantage to the World of Gross Reptiles (not exactly the name on the signage). There weren’t quite enough scaly, bumpy creatures to fill the exhibition barn so a corner of it had about six large tables and chairs set up. They were nicely positioned near a door as well as a really large fan. The breeze was quite nice.

The big advantage was that this area was in close proximity to the Food Court. The seating in the Food Court can get rather crowded and the air stifling on a hot day. It wasn’t long before we coined the term "Reptile Dining Room" and found ourselves slithering in there with our yakisoba noodles and mac n cheese.

The big disadvantage was this. As long as I kept my back to the screen all was good. I learned that the hard way on Day 3 when I noshed on street tacos while trying not to watch a pack of hyenas savagely devouring their kill.

La la la la la.  I don't see you, creepy iguana lizard
dragon thing.  If I don't see you, you aren't there.

Carnival Econ 101
Rob and I occasionally meander through the carnival area. It’s a good walk and always provides a revitalizing dose of adolescent energy.

I always enjoy seeing the prizes that come out of the carnival and parade around the Fairgrounds. This year there were LOTS of stuffed donuts being worn as hats. And quite a few stuffed llamas.

Stuffed LLAMAS?? Of course, I needed to check this out.

The Llama Game was a dart-and-balloon exercise. Throw darts of questionable sharpness at a board covered in balloons, pop 6 of them, win a prize.

We did the math. If we were expert dart throwers with perfect aim, a coveted llama would cost $15. Rob’s pretty good, but not that good. Especially with carnival darts.

In the waning hours of Day 3, Rob and I casually sidled up to the bored guy manning the balloon dart board.

“How much to just buy the llama?”

Without much hesitation, Bored Guy replied, “Twenty bucks.”


We took the llama on tour through the Llama Greenway so he could have a Fair Experience before heading to Woodhaven. He’s currently hanging out with some other llama friends in our breakfast nook, because you know Woodhaven has a few llama friends scattered about.

I named him Giuseppe.

Too bad there weren't any judges to score him.  Giuseppe
did quite well on this obstacle.

Final Stats:

Average number of miles walked per Fair day: 3.6 miles per day. That's pretty awesome for a 50-year-old body with titanium and orthotics and hamstrings pretending to be ACLs. Go, body! And YAY pain meds!

Average time I went to bed after posting blogs: 2:32am with an upward trend over the nine Fairing days. I sure hope David from the Xfinity booth calls me as promised to reveal when Woodhaven might get more than 2.5Mbps of internet speed. The photo uploads are killers!

Favorite Smasher Combo: So hard to choose, but I think the winner is Strawberry Mango.

Best Food Discovery: Once we ditched the ice cream and got a fresh batch, the little donuts from the new donut truck were really good. So good, in fact, we opted to have them instead of an elephant ear as our Fairwell treat.

Biggest First World Problem: They moved our bench. Our Bench. The nice wooden bench in the Big Air Conditioned Building placed in front of the canning display, positioned with a perfect view of the entrance. We love to sit there to take a break in the cool air and watch for friends coming and going. It’s also a favorite spot for our friends, Dave and Linda, so often we either take shifts or all cozy up on the bench together.

Linda and I commiserated on Day 2 about the misplacement of Our Bench this year. Still positioned near the canning, it now had its back to the entrance. Instead of watching for friends, we got to stare at the same five quilts all Fair. Sigh.

It was in the wrong place but we were still grateful to use it.

Changes afoot
Word on the Midway is that changes are a comin’. Three key people in the Fair Office will be retiring very soon, not the least of which is the Fair President/CEO/Manager/ Head Fair Person in Charge. John is 75 years old. His Fair gig of 27 years was his second career. He claims he’s going to retire for good this time.

The person who has been hired to take John’s place is a 44-year-old with event and conference management experience. Mickey’s from Tennessee with a special heart for “…the outdoorsy, communal style of county fairs,” according to an interview in our local paper.

I already like him.

Rob and I have also been in discussions for a slightly different approach to Fairing, at least for next year. We still have some things to work out, so stay tuned. But rest assured, I WILL be Fairing my little clogged heart out again next year…and you are absolutely invited along for the ride.

Almost finished…
Once I reacquaint myself with an app, I will post one more short, Fair-related blog in the next couple of days. I will do my utmost to make it worth the wait.  Key word:  video.

Stay tuned!